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Berkman Center Kicks Off Digital Problem Solving Initiative

By Tyler S. B. Olkowski and Rachel H. Star, Crimson Staff Writers

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society held a kickoff event for its Digital Problem Solving Initiative, a year-long program that brings together students and mentors from across the University to solve campus-wide issues through technology, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Gutman Library on Thursday.

Following an introduction from Law School Dean Martha L. Minow and a lecture on best practices for entrepreneurship from Business School professor Thomas R. Eisenmann, students and advisors split up into eight teams focused on particular on-campus problems.

The issues that the teams discussed included improving open access policies, running a more sustainable farmers market, developing data analysis tools, improving access to online education, exploring interactive documentary workshops, publicizing and addressing sexual assault data on campus, and creating useful apps for students and the entire Harvard Community.

“It had struck me, [while] sitting in many deans’ meetings as we talked about problems across campus, that there is competency and knowledge in a younger generation to tackle the issues that the University faces as it seeks to harness digital possibilities,” said Minow, who started the initiative.

After receiving broad support from deans across the University, the program was pilot-tested successfully last year. This year, the program boasts 36 participants and 13 mentors, divided into project teams according to their interests and skill sets.

Law School professor and Berkman Center Director Urs Gasser said the initiative not only aims to tackle problems across the University but also seeks to develop students “digital literacy skills.”

“[The Initiative] is an opportunity...to engage in problem-solving and test out ways in which students and mentors can collaborate and learn from each other,” Gasser said.

Multiple undergraduates involved in the initiative agreed with Gasser, referencing the initiative’s interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial feel.

“The fact that we have members of all different schools of Harvard makes it really worthwhile to join this project,” Kelwen Peng ’17 said.

“For me, I’m interested in film,” said Debbie N. Onuoha ’15, who is working to create films for and about the community. “Any opportunity to work in film and with other filmmakers is always welcome.”

For Minow, bringing together minds from across Harvard’s various schools may foster more effective problem-solving.

“Multidisciplinary teams can be more imaginative, more inventive, and come up with new ways to tackle really interesting problems,” Minow said. “If we do this well, I think it’s an avenue for Harvard as a University to remake what education is but also to exemplify how digital tools provide an occasion for interdisciplinary learning, cross-generational learning, and I hope a lot of fun.”

—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at tyler.olkowski@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.

—Staff writer Rachel H. Star can be reached at rachelstar@college.harvard.edu.

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